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Criminologists Are Asking Jeff Sessions To Release FBI Crime Data

As Trump tweets, government acts. Welcome to Meanwhile, our recurring look at what federal agencies are up to and how their work affects people’s lives.

When data goes missing, researchers take notice. On Tuesday, a research alliance representing two professional associations of criminologists lodged a formal statement of concern with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and acting FBI Director Christopher Wray over a number of data tables that were missing from the FBI’s 2016 Crime in the United States report. FiveThirtyEight obtained a copy of the letter, which was signed by Peter Wood, chair of the Crime & Justice Research Alliance, a joint project of the American Society of Criminology and the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, and which called for the FBI to “immediately revise the 2016 report to make this data available.” (You can read the full letter here.)

FiveThirtyEight first reported in October that the 2016 report, the first of its kind to be put out under the Trump administration, was missing numerous data tables. The FBI claimed that the removal of data tables had been in the works for years, but further reporting found that there was little evidence to back up that argument.

The Crime & Justice Research Alliance’s letter to Sessions and Wray noted that the report’s reduction in data tables “has significant implications for the justice research community.”

“Given this administration’s public statements about addressing violent crime, victims’ rights, the opioid epidemic and terrorism,” the letter states, “it is unfortunate that the 2016 report removes key data about these topic areas.” The letter goes on to point out that data used to track intimate partner violence, gang homicides, and arrests relating to narcotics — including heroin and synthetic opioids — is now missing from the report.

The ranking members of the House and Senate judiciary committees and members of the House and Senate subcommittees on commerce, justice and science appropriations were also sent the letter.

The statement of concern from the criminologist community came as President Trump announced that the new head of the Bureau of Justice Statistics will be Jeffrey Anderson, a former professor of political science with no apparent statistical background besides helping create a system to assess the strength of college football teams, adjusted for their schedule difficulty.1 In May, Anderson, a former fellow at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank, was appointed to be the director of the Office of Health Reform at the Department of Health and Human Services. The White House’s announcement of his posting to the Bureau of Justice Statistics noted that in his previous role he led efforts “to reduce insurance premiums, regulatory burdens, and opioid abuse.”

Anderson’s appointment comes after five former heads of the Bureau of Justice Statistics sent a letter to Sessions this spring urging him to appoint a director of the BJS who had “scientific skills; experience with federal statistical agencies; familiarity with BJS and its products; visibility in the nation’s statistical community.”

Footnotes

  1. Among 113 college football ranking systems, Anderson’s has been tied for the sixth most accurate in predicting wins and losses this season.

Clare Malone is a senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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